Firefighters in England and Wales will be striking again this week over what is an outrageous attack on firefighters and their family’s futures in a long running dispute with members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).
This unelected government is about to oversee an MP pay rise of 11%, over £7000 pounds a year, which will also be going someway to bumping up their gold-plated, taxpayer pension. Incidentally some MPs still receive £3.40 from the taxpayer for every £1 that they pay into their pension scheme. A firefighter gets £1.05 for every £1 they pay in.
That is because we are all in this together I guess.
The firefighters pension contributions have increased by over 3% to over 14%, a firefighter is now paying over £300 a month into a pension, approximately £4000 a year (with an officer paying considerably more than this) and have had a negligible pay rise in the last 7 years, far lower than the price of inflation or the cost of living. These contributions have gone directly into the deficit caused by unregulated banks recession and not the pension scheme. With the proposed changes to the normal pension age firefighters will now have a 50/50 chance of being able to draw their pension and if they succumb to the natural ageing process, they will face losing 47% (since reduced back down to 21.8% after threat of a legal challenge on age discrimination) of their pension for the privilege.
In the meantime MPs have been using taxpayer money to heat horse stables, pay for and decorate second homes and have left so little for the rest of us that we now have record numbers of children in poverty and there has been a sudden realisation in recent weeks that the majority of people in poverty today already have jobs with 1 in 4 being described as ‘working poor’.
All this comes against the background of the Queen statement this year when she said that her government would be helping people to save for their futures. Really? Because to the many of her subjects, at present, it looks as though their futures are being stolen from them.
The (former) fire minister Brandon Lewis says it is not fair for the taxpayer to pick up the burden for the firefighters pension but is it okay for them to pick up horse stables heating bills? The firefighters pension scheme is not financially crippling to the economy, yet Brandon Lewis would have you think that their families, are not economically viable.
Brandon Lewis said the issue of a normal pension age of 60 is not an issue for this dispute because it has been in since the creation of the 2006 firefighter pension scheme and does not feature in the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) trade dispute, but this scheme was sold on the idea of redeployment for firefighters who cannot do operational tasks any longer. This has not been the case with less than 20 redeployments across the UK Fire and Rescue Service in that time and came at a time without any scientific support. Anti trade union laws mean that you cannot strike against legislation, the NPA 60 sits under the Public Sector Pensions Bill and so firefighters cannot strike against this issue specifically.
Since the introduction of the 2006 scheme, that has always been opposed by the FBU, a report commissioned by the government by Dr Tony Williams states vast numbers of firefighters will not be fit to do the job between the ages of 55 and 60. To check this, Brandon Lewis looked at 20 (less than half of the English Fire and Rescue Services) fitness policies and said that they could stay operational until the age of 60 no problem. He based this on the absolute minimum standard to stay “on the run” which would mean firefighters would be working to their absolute limit every time a fire call came in. There is no margin for error and no safety limit built into the fitness standards he is claiming will help them reach 60. Is this fair on the safety of the public or the firefighters? No. Since writing this there has now been a second report into firefighter fitness conducted by Bath University, which supports this view. The report states that a firefighter operating below a VO2 level of 42 would in fact be dangerous on the fireground and not safe to be ‘on the run’.
And what is the under pinning theme behind all of this? The recession, created by the banks and the financial sector, but that is a story for another day, firefighters in the FBU say they will continue to fight on for pension justice, their motto taken from Spain is: Rescatamos Personas No Bancos – Rescue People, Not Banks – will this government say the same?
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